September 11, 2001 started off as another routine morning for me. I was eating my breakfast casually watching the early morning news before teaching my community college “Shape Up” physical education class. This morning ended up changing my life and the world…in seconds…
My first thought was that my oldest daughter Alicia was in New York City attending Barnard College for women. She had a history of hanging out near the World Trade Center with her friends…I had no idea if she was dead or alive and had no way of contacting her for many grueling hours. She ended up being okay and walking over ten miles across a bridge to the parents of one of her classmates–she learned about real strength beyond physical and used some of it that day to escape.
As I headed up to my PE class, I knew what must be done…
One of the most difficult duties I have had in my two decades of professional fitness and physical education was to make the announcement to my morning Shape Up class that our country had suffered a major terrorist attack. It was not the “usual student population” in my Shape Up class. My class not only represented full-time students, but also part time students along with community members only there for the PE class. I had two WWII combat veterans in my class and many others from the Greatest Generation. To look into the eyes of these two combat veterans and the other seniors with this solemn message took all the courage I had in my soul. One gentleman was a US Marine combat veteran who to that day still could not talk about the horrors of war. The other was a top turret gunner in a B-29 bomber. They knew what the terror attack meant.
What did I know that the WWII generation also knew? We answer with strength through fitness. We came together that morning as a group united-for a deeper purpose. To date, that morning exercise session on 9-11-01 remains one of THE most important of my life.
History teaches that during tough times, it’s a good idea to work together “as one” and support each other. After Pearl Harbor, America stood as one–the “UNITED” States of America. At least for a brief moment in the fall of 2001, we stood at least a little closer together…
“…we can fully restore the physical soundness of our nation only if every American is willing to assume responsibility for his own fitness and the fitness of his children. We do not live in a regimented society where men are forced to live their lives in the interest of the state. We are, all of us, as free to direct the activities of our bodies as we are to pursue the objects of our thought. But if we are to retain this freedom, for ourselves and for generations yet to come, then we must also be willing to work for the physical toughness on which the courage and the intelligence and skill of man so largely depend.”
-President John F. Kennedy (1960)
Fitness today is mostly a joke compared to the past; too often, it’s a great place to find undereducated and physically illiterate clowns on parade. Decades ago and far beyond the latest six-pack ABS video and endless airbrushed beach butt babes, there were people moving and exercising “with purpose”…a sort of nobility. I have been researching the history of fitness and PE for decades. Upon examination of many different national fitness movements and physical education programs, they all seem to have some sort of larger purpose attached to them. France, Czech Sokols, Germany, Sweden, Danish, the UK and so many more…they all were driven by deeper purpose beyond physique! During classical American fitness times, we called this the “Noble Purpose.” All this just for exercise? YES. *Warning: If you just want to “workout” and admire your arse in the mirror, leave now before I get beyond Grade 2.
What did this Noble Purpose mean? Why was it important? Noble Purpose defined is basically “preservation of nation.” But what exactly is behind the meaning of noble?
Noble. Here are a few words used to define “noble” in my 1949 Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary:
- possessing very high or excellent qualities
- grand, stately, magnificent, splendid
- commanding excellence of mind or character
- high ideals or morals
So when is the last time someone in the local gym was talking about fitness being about the above? About more than just calories burned? Or more than ABS and ASS? Is it just more outdated BS? Obsolete? Inconsequential? Replaced by technology or Pokemon? Think again.
“May the Sokol ideals and methods that have carried the Sokols thru a century of dedicated action become the inspiration for the entire nation in its efforts to seek “Physical Perfection Joined With a Noble Mind.”
-Jindrich Fuegner & Dr. Miroslav Tyrs, Sokol Founders
The sooner we get back to having some nobility in our states of fitness, the stronger we will become as a nation. Want to build a strong country or keep one? This is how it has been done. You don’t lead from the front with weakness of mind or weakness of body…you lead from the front with strength–and not just “physical” strength. This notion of nobility in fitness goes all the way back to ancient Greece whose ideals formed Western civilization…mens sana in corpore sano…“a sound mind in a sound body.” Depending on how and “why” you exercise–you shape your mind accordingly. For nobility and deeper purpose–or fading physiques that never last or measure up to what is really important in our country…but can get you some nice dividends on YouTube as in “money for nothing and tricks for free.”
Since September 11, 2001, I have been doing my part to help my country achieve a state of readiness for a Noble Purpose. This is the least I can do for my former Greatest Generation students of Shape Up…and for my children’s future. How about YOU?
In Sound Mind-Sound Body…put some sweat into it.
Ron Jones, MS